by Dr Christos Galiotos
What does it feel to be marginalised in a country that I call home? I have asked myself the question infinite times at the wake of consciousness. How can it be that I feel as a foreigner in the land that I was born? Is locality of birth a defining feature in the construction of my identity? Does my birth place mean that I have immediate bonds with Australia? Musing about my cultural identity I discovered from long ago that my ancestry, roots and soul are definitely Greek. I feel Greek, I speak Greek, I think in Greek. I have often wondered what about if I was born in another country, perhaps a neighbouring Asian country, would I still be Greek? Would I still feel Greek? I feel that no matter where else I would have been born and bread, I still would be Greek. Being Greek is a way of life, a lifestyle.
My cultural identity is the most valuable treasure that I own. A treasure chest that has been nurtured from fables and stories about my parents’ youth and adolescence, prior to their departure in the mid-1960s, for the land of opportunity, Australia. These stories are a library of video clips embedded deep within the inlets of my eternal soul. I recall that what it was like when my parents went to school and the hardships of daily life. Life was a struggle but with a purity of intent that I still admire. A society built on moral and religious values. Above all, the family was perceived as something sacred. My mind and soul were baptised in traditional Greek values that rest on the triptych: the Christian Orthodox faith, the homeland and the family. My family forged a strong notion of Hellenism that imprinted itself upon my entire being. The inner urban city life of Richmond, Victoria, the place where I was born, is always sacred to my mind. Richmond is like my parents village that I use to conjugate in my mind’s eye. I feel that my roots emerged from its fertile soil. When I return to Richmond, I feel that the town welcomes me in its maternal embrace, an unconditional embrace that creates an authentic sense of belonging. If feels like home though the symphony of my emotions are coloured with a latent sense of impermanence.
Being born in Australia and more precisely in Melbourne, has been a great blessing in my life. Not that I have been unscathed by the scars of bitter racism, school bullying and a sense of being uniquely different.
Speaking the English language is a great advantage but not always a joy. The truth is I love languages. Language requires a special kind of sensitivity towards its intrinsic logic and rhythmical patterns of expression. I was born into a Greek-speaking household. From a young child I perceived the learning of the Greek language as a source of joy and perpetual growth. Greek school was the place where I could be me. It was the place where I could turn on all of my lights and ‘swim’ in the sea of cultural bliss. My teachers left an indelible mark on my mind of what it truly means to be Greek. I treasure my memories and experience of my Greek school years…
Speaking both Greek and English equally fluently is a defining feature of my cultural identity: bi-lingualism defines who I am. I feel that I function with a conscious bi-lingualism. My cultural bi-lingualism is the source of my pride. Having access to both Greek and English languages allowed me to explore my identity through two prisms. As time passes by, I have found that my affinity resonates closer with the Greek language and with Greece. I do not deny the fact that I was born in Australia nor my admiration for the English language. Australia has taught me to fight for what I believed. Its more tranquil rhythms have enabled me to explore the spirituality of its indigenous peoples, the Aborigines. I have always been fascinated with their ‘dreamtime’. When I want to create something artistic, I like to experience my own dreamtime as a vivid source of inspiration; a luminous pillar of creative energy that wants to be expressed in my world and works.
Art is an important aspect of my identity. I love the exhilarating sense of freedom that art releases from the depths of my immortal soul. Artistic expressions of my identity are like an externalisation from the studio of my interior world. The creative and mental faculties of my imagination are brought into play in my engagement with art, particularly through my creative and critical writing. I find a higher cultural expression of my identity in the creative invention of poetry and melody. I feel that my poems are a snap shot of unique moments from my everyday life, a poetic autobiography seen through my luminous eyes.
I do not perceive life as boring even if at times, it does become tedious. For me, life reveals itself as a continuous journey of self-exploration. My cultural identity is not severed from my spiritual identity. I see the one flowing into the other. I feel that my Hellenic identity embraces archaic, classical, Byzantine and contemporary Greek culture along a continuum of cultural goldmines that invite me towards further exploration and the attainment of self-realisation.
My cultural identity is essentially double-sided, integrated into what I would call my Greek-Australian identity; two sides or aspects of the one integrated person. It took me many years of soul-searching to reconcile the Greek and English aspects of my cultural identity. My cultural identity nourishes what it means to be me, to live and dance with the swirly winds of existence.
© Dr Christos Galiotos
Centre For Comparative Literature
and Cultural Studies
Previously published in
the periodical “O Logos”,
iss. 17, Melbourne, 2004